With enlightenment being sought via all manner of devices, Sonia Jeffrey wonders what it all means for our spiritual development.
In a world where Australians spend 63 per cent of their time bent over either a smartphone or tablet, is it any wonder that many of us are also turning to our devices when searching for spiritual solace?
Well, we already knew that the spiritual domain has no borders, but with technology’s rise it now knows no bounds—as long as you’ve got an unlimited broadband plan and the latest Apple or Android device, of course.
From mindfulness meditation, to Scripture studies and daily podcasts, there’s a screen for anyone dabbling in spiritual enlightenment in the comfort of their own home or wherever else they choose.
Long-term Salvationist and current employee of The Salvation Army, Ian Lingard is one who uses an all-in-one app that suits him.
The app, called Sacred Space Daily Prayer, is “a daily prayer online which invites us to make a sacred space in our day”, says Ian. With the help of a short Scripture chosen every day, plus on-screen guidance, Ian develops awareness of the presence of God together with simple effective meditation techniques.
“I find it a valued daily refreshment and Jesus focus that can be accessed anywhere in the world I am with my phone. It can take a few minutes or as long as I choose for my daily devotions,” he says.
Like most apps, updates take place regularly to keep content new and refreshing.
Generation Z, such as 14-year-old Kate, are also getting in on spiritual apps. Kate is a lover of the popular Smiling Mind, which makes the top 10 list of most downloaded mindfulness apps for 2016.
Along with her Bible app (which includes some helpful reading plans, phone wallpapers and other ways to connect with others), Smiling Mind makes it easier for Kate to connect with the sacred space from the comfort of her bedroom.
“Even my favourite YouTubers, when they show us videos of what’s on their phones, have mindfulness or relaxation apps, and lots of them quote from the Bible,” she says.
While all this sounds well and good, there are questions that need to be asked, such as how apps and the like impact the rest of our spiritual development. And while spirituality may be fundamentally a private matter, can our spiritual selves survive or, more to the point, thrive only in the private sphere?
That’s where the Mind Body Spirit Festival* plays a role.
Mind Body Spirit
If you happen to attend the annual Mind Body Spirit Festival* in Melbourne next week you might be surprised to find a Salvation Army booth there.
In fact, this will be the eighth year that the Salvos have set up a stall there, and with good reason. Hailed as ‘Australia’s largest health and wellbeing event’, and with 12,000–14,000 visitors at both the Melbourne and Sydney venues expected at each event, there appears to be no slowing of crowds wanting to explore holistic health, spirituality, healing and wellbeing in all their forms.
Mind Body Spirit Festival organiser and event manager Lisa West tells Warcry that the event’s advertising campaign on social media, in particular, has engaged attendees, heightening their awareness of the festival and enabling organisers to tweak the details to suit the audience’s needs.
And rather than dampen enthusiasm, in fact, spiritual apps and the like seem to fuel the need for face-to-face contact.
The Salvation Army’s Captain June Knop, who heads the Australia Southern Territory’s prophetic prayer booth in Melbourne says: “We have found time and time again that something extra happens in a face-to-face encounter between a person seeking a prophetic word, the prophet and what God shares through that prophet.”
Captain Knop believes that God can communicate through a variety of means, but there is a special dimension available only through direct contact between two people. Those who attend the festival often come hoping for a personal spiritual encounter and are open to—and not shy about—connecting with someone they believe can give them direction.
She adds that, although advanced, technology still lacks the tone, warmth and nuance of communicating face-to-face with another human being.
“Words and body language communicate 90 per cent of what is said,” says Captain Knop, “and you can’t get that on any app or website.”
The Gogglebox effect
Earlier this year, when Channel Ten series Gogglebox took out another Logie in the category of Best Factual Program, many were not surprised. While few can articulate exactly why they love the show, many point to its overriding sense of community.
The producers smartly chose a diverse cross-section of ‘viewers’ and, therefore, many of us easily see versions ourselves in these Goggleboxers reflected back at us.
Another thing Gogglebox reminds us of is that, in the modern home, the sole time families truly gather together is when they’re watching television (yes, with one or both parents often working late, the once sacred family get-together—dinnertime—is a thing of the past).
So while families are engaged in a singularly solitary act, they’re actually also in communion with each other (aka their ‘tribe’). Go figure.
You can say that we seek this same balance between private reflection and personal connection in our quest for a healthy spirituality.
True spiritual engagement should look something like this: We read or encounter something privately. We meditate on it alone. Then, with a small group of trusted people (a community or tribe) we reflect together on our feelings and findings, turn that into practical solutions and move forward into the world.
This is the work of community, the heart of spirituality. Christians would go one step further and declare this as the vision for the Church.
Made for community
At the end of each day, I relax by opening a mindfulness app, and allow myself to be guided through the exercises. I then read a text from the Bible, ponder the reflective thought and the guided prayer, and let it all wash over me.
But what’s more helpful are the conversations that flow in continuing days with others over what has been read and meditated upon. No matter how slick the app, how helpful the latest podcast or how revolutionary the preaching, nothing can replace the personal bonds of like-minded souls exploring the spiritual depths together.
This is something both Kate and Ian agree with. They say that their digital doses of spirituality don’t replace the encounters they have with people at church, school or the office when talking about personal or spiritual things.
“Even when our group leader gives us something to read during the week,” says Kate, “it doesn’t make as much sense until we come back together the next week and talk about it with the rest of the group.”
So whether you’re off to the Mind Body Spirit Festival or scrolling through an app store in search of something to guide you, be sure of this: little compares to good follow-up conversation with the right people. Be encouraged to lift your eyes from your smart device and go in search of them. Your tribe will be glad you did.
*The Mind Body Spirit Festival will be held in Melbourne from 9–12 June 2017; it was held in from Sydney 25–28 May 2017.